What is selective mutism?

Selective mutism is exactly what it sounds like; a child chooses not to speak because they don’t want to or because something about hearing their own voice disturbs them. It may appear as though the child is extremely shy at home or in public, but will talk someone’s ear off in a single location. The language isn’t delayed as it is in autism; it’s there but the child just doesn’t feel like talking.

Selective mutism has been linked to other “out there” diagnoses such as Einstein syndrome. Shyness has always existed; now it’s assumed that extreme shyness is a mental health condition labeled “selective mutism”. Children can and often do have selective hearing when adults are trying to get their attention and tell them to do something. When children don’t respond or refuse to respond, it’s no longer a willful or shy child not speaking up; it’s “selective mutism”.

We live in an age where every previously normal childhood behavior has become a disorder. Parents are seeking psychological treatment and medications for everything under the sun, including extreme shyness or lack of cooperation and communication when a child refuses to talk. There is nothing wrong with shyness, nothing wrong with a child that refuses to talk to others, and nothing wrong with a desire to be left alone. This is something kids do, and they will grow out of it unless parents turn it into something bigger than it really is.

The only time that “selective mutism” should be looked at as a problem is if the child is genuinely afraid of another adult. There is an underlying cause that usually halts them from talking while that adult is present. It could be physical or sexual abuse, and he or she is terrified that if they say a single word they might hurt someone else they love or “get it worse”. In this case, a parent should definitely seek help because there really is something wrong, and it needs to come out into the open.

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  1. What a positively awful article. You have no idea what you are talking about. I hope that no parent reads this and does not get their child treated thinking they will “outgrow” it. They will not. Please see Jonathan Berent’s website for real help.

  2. Please, please, please remove this article. It is so inaccurate and very dangerous to be posted. What a hateful uneducated post.

    1. Hey Jen,
      Thank you for letting us know your feedback. As we have mentioned earlier, we may not have the most current information. We publish articles based on our internet search and hand on experience. We may have wrong information. Please advise us what specific information is incorrect?
      Thank you.

  3. Pretty much the entire article is incorrect. Selective Mutism is very real. It goes way beyond just shyness. It is a severe from of social anxiety/phobia. It is a HUGE misconception that the child is “chosing” not to speak. They cannot get the words out due to severe anxiety. It is so debilitating and can have life long effects if not treated early. The child does not WANT to be this way. They cannot help it. This goes WAY beyond normal shyness. And just to point out most treatment does NOT involve medication. And it is just as common as Autism, but with attitudes like this these children are MISLABELED as defiant. It is a DISORDER!!!!!!!!!

    1. Jen, Thanks for pointing out incorrect information. Do you have anything else to add? We would love to get more details on selective mutism.

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